Coral Gables hopes to expand trolley line, costs at issue
By Meena Rupani
Worried about upcoming funding, the Gables trolley has yet to expand its routes to meet city desires.
Trolleys are subsidized by the county People's Transportation Plan, funded by a one-half-cent sales tax. According to Mayor Donald Slesnick, of the $1.2 million annually allocated to Coral Gables from the tax, half goes to the trolley service.
However, Mayor Slesnick says the tax is always in jeopardy.
"Tax income is down; it scares us that the trolley will not be getting the same amount from the city in upcoming years. We don't charge a fare for the trolley so we rely heavily on the funding from the city."
Mayor Slesnick and the city are hoping to expand to the north side of the Gables and perhaps partner with an organization that would help with funding.
"Perhaps when the new Publix supermarket opens on Flagler, we could partner with them and have a route spanning from Eighth Street to Flagler," he said.
Other options, he said, are possibly connecting the University of Miami to the downtown Gables area and also having the trolley run from the Douglas Road Metrorail station along US 1 to the MacFarlane Homestead area in the historic district of Coral Gables.
"We did want to expand a few years ago, but it all depends on the money, as does any change to the trolley service. We are all in tough economic times," said Dona Spain, assistant to the city manager.
The city has eliminated the post of trolley manager, leaving the task to the city's parking department.
"These are hard times. We had to consolidate certain jobs," Mayor Slesnick said.
"We do fully intend to hire a trolley manger in the near future," Ms. Spain said.
The one route the trolley does have has been a success, servicing over 5,000 passengers daily.
The North/South Ponce de Leon Boulevard route runs along Ponce de Leon Boulevard from the Douglas Metrorail station to Southwest Eighth Street every 10 to 15 minutes Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. except the first Friday of the month, when it runs until 10 p.m. for Gables Gallery Night.
Trolleys first ran in Coral Gables in the 1920s, running on fixed rails under overhead electric power until 1935. In June 1988, another trolley returned on rubber tires at a 25-cent fare. The current system of trolley buses, the third incarnation, began in November 2003.
Now there are eight trolleys, and the city hopes to order new ones.
"We are always looking to make the trolley better, but funding and getting new equipment is a big issue," Mayor Slesnick said.
"People want to ride the trolley because it runs so often and is convenient. It has really been a successful program."